As flu hospitalizations surge in the U.S., the Southeast is the hardest hit

Enbal Sabag, a Nurse Practitioner, prepares a flu vaccination for a patient at the CVS Pharmacy and MinuteClinic on September 03, 2020 in Key Biscayne, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Flu hospitalizations have surged to a decade high in the U.S. with the Southeast the hardest region right now.

Five out every 100,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized with the flu during the week ending Nov. 5, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the highest hospitalization rate this early in the flu season since 2010, more than 10 years ago.

But the percentage of patients reporting symptoms similar to the flu, a fever of 100 degrees or greater plus a sore throat or cough, is the highest in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington D.C., according to CDC data.

Flu activity is also very high in Arkansas, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York City and Texas, according to the CDC.

More than 6,400 people were admitted to the hospital with the flu during the week ending Nov. 5, according to data from the Health and Human Services Department. About 54% of these patients were hospitalized in the Southeast and South-Central portion of the U.S.

Just over 2,000 people were hospitalized with the flu in the region that includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. More than 1,400 were admitted to the hospital in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

In the Southeast, the influenza A H3N2 strain appears to be the most common right now, according to Dr. Jose Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. This strain is associated with more severe illness in the elderly and young children, Romero said.

“There are also early signs of influenza causing severe illness in precisely these two groups of individuals this season,” Romero told reporters during a call earlier this month.

Nearly 11 out of every 100,000 seniors were hospitalized with the flu during the week ending Nov. 5 while about 10 out every 100,000 kids younger than age 5 were admitted to the hospital, according to CDC data. The hospitalization rate for these age groups is about double the national rate.

So far this season, at least 2.8 million people have fallen ill with the flu, 23,000 have been hospitalized, and 1,300 people have died from the virus, according to CDC.

Why everyone seems to be getting sick

Hospitals across the U.S. are getting slammed with a surge of patients, particularly kids, sick with the flu or respiratory syncytial virus. Romero said these viruses are probably surging because immunity declined as pandemic-era public health measures crushed transmission of these viruses. May kids, as a consequence, are getting infected for the first time.

Public health officials are also expecting another wave of Covid infection this winter. The CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and the White House have called for everyone whose eligible to receive a flu shot and Covid booster ahead of the holidays.

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(With inputs from CNBC)